It's not easy to say 'no'. Some people don't like to do it because they think they'll annoy or offend the person asking them for help or to do something. But there are ways to make saying 'no' easier.

First, you should always be polite. Second, you should give a reason why you can't do something. And third, you should apologise for not being able to do it.

In this online exercise, we will look at phrases in English that can be used to say 'no' to a request for help or to do something. These phrases can be used in both business and general situations.

Click here to go to an exercise on phrases used to ask for help.


Exercise: How to say 'No'

In the following two business situations, one person is asking another to help them or do something for them. One of the situations is formal and the other is informal.

From the context, try to guess what the meaning of the words/phrases in bold are. Then do the quiz at the end to check if you are right.

Situation 1

Bill:'Bob, would you mind going to the Dorcia client meeting next week for me?'

Bob:'Where and when is it?'

Bill:'It's in Manchester at 10 in the morning.'

Bob:'I'm afraid I can't. I'm writing a presentation and I need to finish it by next Friday.'

Bill:'You could write it on the train going there.'

Bob:'I doubt I'd be of any use. I don't know anything about the client.'

Bill:'Well, I can tell you what you need to do. I'd really appreciate it.'

Bob:'Sorry Bill, I'd rather not.'

Bill:'I wouldn't ask you if it wasn't important.'

Bob:'I can appreciate that, but I need to focus on completing the presentation. Have you thought about asking Sally or Louise?'

Bill:'No I haven't, but I could.'

Bob:'Sorry Bill, I hope it doesn't cause you any problems.'

Bill:'Don't worry, it's fine.'


Situation 2

Jason:'Can I ask you a favour?'

Nicola:'What is it?'

Jason:'Could you do next month's sales report. I'll be on holiday and I need somebody I can trust to do it.'

Nicola:'I wish I could, but next month is really busy for me. I have 10 meetings and I have to finish the new staff training manual.'

Jason:'I can appreciate that, but I need somebody to do it.'

Nicola:'As I said, I don't have the time. I'm sorry. You don't mind, do you?'

Jason:'It needs to be done and I'm not going to be able to do it!'

Nicola:'Leave it with me. I'll let you know by Friday if I can do it.'

Jason:'Thanks.'




Quiz: How to say 'NO' to a request for help

Below is a definition/description of each of the words in bold from the above text. Now choose the word/phrase from the question's selection box which you believe answers each question. Only use one word/phrase once. Click on the "Check answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

When the answer is correct, two icons will appear next to the question which you can press/click on. In the first icon, , you can find extra information about the word/phrase (e.g. when, where and how to use etc...) and a Spanish translation. In the second, , is where you can listen to the word/phrase and do a pronunciation test (to make sure you can say it correctly).


1.

A phrase that means 'you don't have a problem with me saying no?', is

         

You don't mind, do you?:
(phrase) 'you don't mind, do you' is a polite and neutral phrase (can be used in both formal and informal situations). It is used when somebody has refused to help somebody or do something. Its purpose is to be polite and make sure that the person who has asked for help is not angry with you. In Spanish: "no te importa, no?".

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You don't mind, do you?:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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2.

An informal/neutral phrase that has a similar meaning to 'I'd like to, but', is

         

I wish I could, but:
(phrase) 'I wish I could, but' is a polite and neutral phrase (can be used in both formal and informal situations). It's basically a different way of saying 'I'm sorry I can't' or 'I'm afraid I can't'. This phrase needs to be followed by either 'I can't' or a reason why you can't, e.g. 'I wish I could, but I have to work late tonight'. It is more polite and effective to give a reason. It is very important that the reason you give is something that the other person can appreciate. In Spanish: "me gustaría hacerlo, pero".

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I wish I could, but:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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3.

A different way of saying, 'I understand, but', is

         

I can appreciate that, but:
(phrase) 'I can appreciate that, but' is a polite and formal phrase. It is used as an answer when somebody is trying to convince or persuade you (e.g. by saying 'it's very important' or 'it won't take long' etc...) to help or do something. This phrase should always be followed by a reason or explanation of why you can't, e.g. 'I appreciate that, but I have to focus on my work first'. It is very important that the reason you give is something that the other person can appreciate. In Spanish: "lo entiendo, pero / soy consciente de ello, pero".

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I can appreciate that, but:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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4.

A phrase that is an explanation why you can't help somebody, is

         

I doubt I'd be of any use:
(phrase) 'I doubt I'd be of any use' is a polite and neutral phrase (can be used in both formal and informal situations). It is similar to saying 'I don't know how to do it'. It is an explanation and means that you don't have any or little experience of doing the thing the other person wants you to do. It is normally followed by more details, e.g. 'I doubt I'd be of any use. I've never done a chart on Excel before'. In Spanish: "dudo que te pueda ayudar".

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I doubt I'd be of any use:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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5.

A different way of saying 'I'll think about it', is

         

Leave it with me:
(phrase) 'leave it with me' is an informal phrase. It basically means I need to think before making a decision. It's a good phrase to use if somebody is trying to pressurize/force you to say 'yes'. By using the phrase, it means that the conversation can be stopped without either offending the person who is asking for help or being too direct (e.g. 'look, I said I can't!'). It is normally followed by a sentence where you say when you will tell them your decision, e.g. 'leave it with me. I'll let you know by the end of the day'. In Spanish: "dejame pensarlo".

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Leave it with me:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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6.

A formal phrase that has the same meaning as 'sorry I can't', is

         

I'm afraid I can't:
(phrase) 'I'm afraid I can't' is a polite, formal and direct phrase. It's basically a different way of saying 'I'm sorry I can't' or 'I wish I could, but'. This phrase should be followed by a reason why you can't, e.g. 'I'm afraid I can't. I have to work late tonight'. It is more polite and effective to give a reason. It is very important that the reason you give is something that the other person can appreciate. In Spanish: "me temo que no puedo hacerlo".

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I'm afraid I can't:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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7.

A phrase that is an apology for not agreeing to help or do something, is

         

I hope it doesn't cause you any problems:
(phrase) 'I hope it doesn't cause you any problems' is a polite and formal phrase. It's basically the same as saying 'sorry', but more formal. It is always used at the end of the conversation. To not offend people, it's always best to apologise when you won't or can't do something that they want you to do. In Spanish: "espero que no te cause problemas".

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I hope it doesn't cause you any problems:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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8.

A phrase that is used when you want to repeat a reason why you can't do something, is

         

As I said:
(phrase) 'as I said' is an informal phrase. It has the same meaning as 'as I told you', which sounds more direct. It is used when you want to repeat a reason or excuse why you can't help or do something, e.g. 'as I said, I don't know how to write a report'. It's a good phrase to use if somebody won't take 'no' for an answer. The phrase is always followed by a comma (e.g. 'as I said,'). In Spanish: "como he dicho".

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As I said:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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9.

A phrase that is used to make a suggestion, is

         

Have you thought about:
(phrase) 'have you thought about' is a neutral phrase (can be used in both formal and informal situations). It is used to suggest possible other solutions to the person asking for help and is better than repeatedly saying 'no, I can't'. This phrase is always followed by a gerund (e.g. 'asking', 'changing' etc...) and a suggestion, e.g. 'have you thought about changing the date of the meeting?'. In Spanish: "has pensado".

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Have you thought about:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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10.

A more polite way to say 'no', is

         

I'd rather not:
(phrase) 'I'd rather not' is a polite and formal phrase. It's basically a politer and less direct way of saying 'no', e.g. 'could you work on Saturday?' 'I'd rather not'. In Spanish: "preferiría no hacerlo".

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I'd rather not:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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Practice

Now that you understand the new vocabulary, practise it by creating your own sentences with the new words/phrases.